Fernandina Beach Municipal Golf Course Pursues New Revenue Opportunity with Executive Chef
By Mike Lednovich
The Fernandina Beach Municipal Golf Course, which has struggled to break even for years, is now seeking to increase its revenue by focusing on food and beverage sales. As part of this effort, the golf course has hired an executive chef with a yearly compensation package of $103,495.
Unfortunately, the salary for the executive chef was mistakenly omitted from the city’s 2023-24 budget. To rectify this oversight, the city commission will be reallocating $68,000 from part-time salaries at Top Tracer and $35,495 from the golf course’s food and beverage part-time salary account to cover the executive chef’s compensation.
Golf Course General Manager David DeMay expressed his optimism about the new revenue opportunity, stating, “When I took over, we were doing practically zero special events. This is an area where we have a real opportunity to generate revenue. To do that, we need to improve our food quality, service quality, and effectively market what we’re offering to the public. We’re changing the entire narrative of this golf course from top to bottom.”
Experts in golf course operations management suggest that successful golf courses generate 30-50% of their revenues from food and beverage operations, including special events such as weddings, celebrations, and corporate events. However, the Fernandina Golf Course has only been generating 5-7% of its total revenues from food and beverage sales in recent years.
Executive Chef Ed Bennett joined the golf course staff in June of last year. According to city documents, Bennett’s compensation package includes a salary of $65,620, retirement benefits of $14,035, health benefits of $20,777, FICA contributions of $2,718, life insurance of $325, and Workers’ Compensation of $120.
DeMay assured that the funds for the executive chef’s salary are budgeted but unspent, explaining, “Most of our staff members are retired or semi-retired and work 15-19 hours a week. Our part-time positions are budgeted for 29 hours, so we have the extra funds to cover this expense.”
The executive chef position was initially created as a part-time role in 2023 but was changed to full-time for the 2023-24 budget year. The city documents state that this change was made “to enhance the golf course dining experience and to generate additional revenue for the golf course’s future operations.”
Since taking over as General Manager 10 months ago, DeMay has made improving food and beverage revenues a top priority. He acknowledged that the golf course has been under-marketed in all areas for the past 15 years and believes that significant improvements can be made in the food and beverage category. DeMay emphasized the importance of informing residents and visitors about the golf course’s new menu, quality food, and special events.
Under Chef Bennett’s guidance, the golf course has already started featuring monthly special menu events, such as prime rib night in October, which attracted 82 diners. Additionally, the golf course now offers a once-a-month Sunday brunch, with plans to make it a weekly event, as well as a happy hour on Fridays.
The Fernandina Beach Municipal Golf Course has struggled to break even for nearly a decade, leading to a $220,000 subsidy from the city’s General Fund over that period. However, this subsidy ended with the 2023-24 budget. The golf course also recently incurred a cost of over $270,000 for a new irrigation pump, which has yet to be installed.
According to the city’s financial reporting for the golf course, “Green Fees and Range Fees revenues were over budget for FY2023; however, the golf course expenses exceed revenues on a year-to-date basis by $76,000. The transfer from Wastewater Fund to the Golf Fund for the accumulated deficit balance was recorded in October.”
Prior to joining the Fernandina Beach Municipal Golf Course, Chef Bennett served as the executive chef at the Windsor of Ortega, an assisted living complex in Jacksonville. He also gained experience at prestigious establishments such as The Golf Club of Amelia Island, located at the Ritz Carlton, Brett’s on the Waterway, the University Club, and The Grill at Hacienda Del Sol in Tucson, Arizona.
General Manager DeMay spoke highly of Chef Bennett’s talents, stating, “He is a talented, wonderful chef, and I recognized right away that he would greatly improve the quality and variety of our menu.”
DeMay acknowledged that revenue improvements at the golf course will take time but expressed confidence in the ongoing efforts. He mentioned various initiatives, including improving turf conditions, acquiring new golf carts, upgrading the dining facility, and focusing on training and customer service. DeMay added, “We’re receiving excellent feedback on the food and beverage improvements and additions.”